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  • WisBar News
    November 16, 2016

    State of the Judiciary: Chief Justice Pushing for Judicial Pay Increases

    Joe Forward


    Nov. 16, 2016 – Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack made judicial salaries a focal point of her State of the Judiciary address today, saying increased salaries will help the state “attract and retain highly skilled and knowledgeable judges.”

    Chief Justice Roggensack kicked off the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Judicial Conference in Elkhart Lake by highlighting major court initiatives and projects. As budget season rolls around, Roggensack plugged judicial salaries as a top priority.

    She noted that Wisconsin lost 24 judges last year, and 19 the year before. Increasing judicial salaries, she said, is one way to help attract and retain experienced judges.

    “There are numerous reasons why experienced judges leave the bench, some of which are beyond our control,” the chief justice said in her address.

    “However, we do know that some judges retire because they have personal financial pressures that they cannot meet on the salary they are paid by the State of Wisconsin.”

    According to the 2015-16 Wisconsin Bluebook, circuit court judges make $131,187 per year. Appeals court judges make $139,059 annually, and justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court make $147,403 per year. Yearly salary for the chief justice is $155,403.

    According to a 2016 report from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Wisconsin ranks 41st of 50 states for circuit court pay, and 33rd of 40 for appeals court pay. “Our judges lack salary parity with judges from other states,” Roggensack said.

    Chief Justice Roggensack said she met with Gov. Scott Walker to explain how an increase in judicial salaries will benefit Wisconsin citizens. She asked Walker to put Wisconsin where it was in 2000 – 21st for trial judge salaries among the 50 states.

    At $153,697 per year, Nebraska is currently 21st in pay for trial judges. Trial judges in the District of Columbia top the list at $201,100.

    Wisconsin trial judges are paid less than judges in the neighboring states of Iowa (30th at $143,897), Minnesota (31st at $143,851), and Michigan (32nd at $139,919).

    Roggensack asked for the judiciary’s help in persuading Gov. Walker to support judicial salary parity. “[J]udges can express why a highly skilled and knowledgeable judiciary is so important to doing business in Wisconsin,” she said.

    Business Court Pilot Project Gets Green Light

    The chief justice noted that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has granted a petition to create a commercial court docket for selected counties as a three-year pilot project. Chief Justice Roggensack had asked a committee to study a “business court” this fall.

    Waukesha County and counties in the Eighth Judicial District – Brown, Door, Kewaunee, Marinette, Oconto, Outagamie, and Waupaca – will pilot the project. The court is holding a public hearing Feb. 16, 2017, to take comments on “fine-tuning.”

    “Business court dockets are employed in many states,” Chief Justice Roggensack noted. “It is our hope that such a docket will result in efficient resolutions of complex business-related controversies.”

    E-filing Working Well

    Chief Justice Roggensack said mandatory e-filing “has been proceeding smoothly” since Dodge County kicked things off in June. Since then, 21 counties have established their mandatory e-filing programs. Marathon and Racine counties expect to start Dec. 1.

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted a mandatory e-filing petition in early 2016, at the request of the Committee of Chief Judges. It requires civil, family, paternity, and small claims cases to be filed electronically. Mandatory e-filing in criminal cases is expected to begin March 1, 2017, but Roggensack said most of the 21 counties that are already mandatory offer e-filing as an option for criminal cases. She also noted that e-filing for probate cases has begun as a pilot in Ashland and Ozaukee counties.

    Other Highlights

    Chief Justice Roggensack noted that Judge Randy Koschnick accepted the supreme court’s offer to serve as the Director of State Courts. He will start the post on Aug. 1, 2017, when his term on the Jefferson County Circuit Court ends. Koschnick will take over for Dennis Moran, who has served as interim director since June 4, 2015.

    Roggensack noted that the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) Oversight Committee has been reconvened to “assure that access to court records is keeping pace with changes in the law and technology.” WCCA was formerly known as CCAP.

    Members of the judiciary also heard updates on the Children’s Court Improvement Program and Wisconsin’s Treatment Courts. Roggensack noted that Wisconsin was selected to participate in a program called Three Branch Institute on Improving Child Safety and Preventing Child Fatalities, which aligns the three branches of government to integrate a comprehensive approach to improving safety.

    · Read the State of the Judiciary transcript

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